WHERE THE ROAD MEETS THE SUN, 2011
Starring: Eric Mabius, Will Yun Lee, Luke Brandon Field, Laura Ramsey, Elsa Pataky, Emmanuelle Vaugier, Erick Avari, Jesse Garcia and Fernando Noriega
A drama centered on a man dealing with the aftereffects of being in a coma caused by a car accident. REVIEW:
Somewhere in Los Angeles and in most big cities usually, there is a run down hostel filled with the transient and detritus of our global culture. People looking for a place to stay but without the means or opportunities to really put down roots. The particular hostel in question is run by a man (Eric Mabius) not too different from the people he is watching, a man who has given up everything that meant anything in his life, and as he begins to become involved in the lives of the people coming and going around him he realizes more and more what he has lost.
Mun Chee Yong's feature film debut is a contemplative take on the idea of the intersection of lives, very much in the mold of a "Magnolia" or "Babe," and the way humanity can only really be understood holistically when you can see how all of the pieces fit together. This sort of thing is natural fodder for broad ensembles, and "Where the Road Meets the Sun" is no different. Though Mabius is the nominal lead, it's really about the intersection of the characters and how they play off each other that make the story go, which means it can skate by less on an actor's charm and needs actual skill and craft to keep from becoming deathly dull.
Fortunately, "Sun" boasts a strong cast and though Mabius may be one of the weaker members of it, that's less of criticism than the reality of the strength of the other performances he is working against. Fernando Noriega in particular is fantastic as illegal immigrant Julio, working at the kitchen of a local restaurant and willing to sacrifice anything, even his dignity and morality, to bring his family over to join him. Noriega inhabits his scenes with a simple reality and regularly upstages his co-stars without ever resorting to scenery chewing. Part of that is because he is paired with the casts weakest member, Luke Field as a British vagabond backpacking around the world in a desperate quest to avoid any responsibility whatsoever.
Will Yun Lee, given a character to actually grapple with for once, proves up to the challenge as well as he and Blake grapple with the disastrous decisions which brought them to Los Angeles to begin with.
A character drama through and through, "Sun" could easily have degenerated to the sort of staginess of a badly adapted play, but Yong's confidant direction keeps that from every happening. Despite being a first film, and a smaller budget one, "Sun" has all the hallmarks of a fully mature work, keeping its stories to tight vignettes while never losing grip of its various threads.
Ironically for a film about the macroscopic connections of life, it's at the larger level where "Sun's" weaknesses show up. As good as the individual scenes are, the narrative as a whole doesn't connect together as well as it could, though it tightens up considerably as it goes along. It's the beginning where the biggest missteps are made as it takes far too long to get its principal's to the hostel itself, going through all of the elements of their back-story to create just the right environment for them to meet and skipping over the course of several years in the process.
It's necessary information but it also keeps "Sun's" light under a bushel for far too long, leaving the audience grasping for something to hang onto for the first half hour.
Despite the bumpy beginning it's worth the ride. A combination of understated performance, strong direction and consummate humanism makes "Where the Road Meets the Sun" the kind of quiet character drama so many independent director's aspire to but don't have a good idea how to make. If done right, there really is nothing more engrossing than actual human beings, and "Sun" does far more right than it does wrong.
"Where the Road Meets the Sun" is currently in limited release as part of the Maya Indie Film Series.
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